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Iraq: Antiwar Axis In Question After St. Petersburg Summit

  • Gregory Feifer

Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped up a two-day summit with his French and German counterparts over the weekend by calling for the United Nations to play a central role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction. But the three leaders -- who recently united in strident opposition to the war -- did not issue a formal declaration on Iraq as expected, leading to speculation that the summit failed its aims. As the U.S. military campaign against Baghdad wraps up, is the future of this newfound alliance already dead in the water?

Moscow, 14 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A budding alliance between France, Russia, and Germany seems to have struck a brick wall after having come together over fierce criticism of the U.S.-led war against Baghdad.

Leaders of the three countries failed to issue an expected joint declaration on Iraq after a hastily convened summit in St. Petersburg over the weekend.

Although they did call for the United Nations to play a central role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction, hopes for a united stand on the issue are fading fast, with each leader looking to sew up badly frayed relations with Washington.

Speaking on 11 April during a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in the former Russian imperial capital, Russian President Vladimir Putin came out with the harshest criticism of the war. "Well, probably, the removal of the tyrannical [Iraqi] regime is probably a plus. But I repeat: the means, the loss of life, the humanitarian disaster that we are facing now, the destruction and deaths -- obviously, those are negative consequences of this war," Putin said.

All three leaders spoke about strengthening the UN's role in global affairs, but Putin went furthest in calling for reform of the international body. He spoke on 11 April at a conference on peace and security, with Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac in attendance.

"We have once again made certain that our views on the main issues are practically identical. One of them is recognition of the central role of the United Nations. It is important, however, that this organization should have effective tools for resolving global problems of international politics and security," Putin said. Putin today reissued his call for the UN to handle Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

But analysts say that emerging from the meeting without a formal declaration on Iraq hurts the war opponents' chances to influence the U.S. position on the country's future. Such a document was seen as crucial in keeping the three-way alliance alive.

The "Gazeta" daily said today that apart from insisting the UN handle Iraq's future, "the three leaders didn't say much else that was new about postwar regulation in Iraq. Clearly, they had no further issues on which to reach agreement, since most of what is now happening in Iraq does not involve the UN."

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week issued vague promises that the UN would play a "vital" role in Iraq's future, but insisted it is not able to play the central role. The allies maintain the UN's role should instead include helping with humanitarian aid and suggesting candidates for an interim administration.

Washington appointed retired U.S. General Jay Garner to lead a short-term military administration that will hand the country over to an interim government combining U.S. and British officials with local and formerly exiled Iraqis. The interim administration would later be replaced with a new, elected Iraqi government.

France, Russia, and Germany opposed the war in Iraq from the start, advocating ongoing UN weapons inspections in Iraq instead of a UN Security Council resolution that would have authorized the use of force. Permanent Security Council members France and Russia threatened to use their veto power to block a resolution, which did not come to a vote.

Andrei Zagorskii is deputy director of the Institute for Applied International Studies. He said the trio failed over the weekend because it "looked at the past instead of looking to the future." Rather than aiming for agreement with Washington and London, the antiwar alliance provided an "alternative" summit to that of Bush and Blair last week.

"That drives the development of events into a dead end because the troika -- France, Russia and Germany -- insists on a decision in the UN Security Council, which is natural and logical. However, for such a decision to take place, U.S. approval is necessary. Without U.S. and British approval, it will be impossible to come to a decision in the Security Council," Zagorskii said.

Zagorskii said by failing to engage in direct dialogue with Washington and London, the antiwar trio only put off any possible agreement over Iraq. By missing the boat, Zagorskii concluded, the antiwar alliance has put its own future in question. "If they remain obstructionist, nothing really depends on the troika in Iraq's postwar reconstruction if the question isn't returned to the Security Council," he said.

Chirac -- reviled by pro-war U.S. politicians during the conflict -- has meanwhile come out with increasingly conciliatory statements in recent days. "We can rebuild our unity around the values that all great democracies share," he said over the weekend. "This spirit of solidarity and collective responsibility should emerge strengthened from the crisis," he said

The three leaders also responded to U.S. calls last week to bolster Iraqi reconstruction by forgiving the country's massive debt.

Contradicting strict refusals from his own top officials, Putin said that Russia, France, and Germany should consider the U.S. proposal at a June meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in France.

All three countries say the matter should be addressed through the Paris Club of creditor countries. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had earlier poured scorn on such suggestions last week. Iraq owes Russia and France approximately $8 billion and Germany about $4.3 billion. France and Germany say it is too early to discuss debt forgiveness for Iraq.

Putin, meanwhile, kept the door open for further disagreements of principle with Washington over Iraq, saying that by failing to have found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States has failed to meet its objectives in the war. "Then what was being fought for and what were the goals?" Putin asked.